Fulbright Vs USA Direct Admissions

In this post, we will discuss Fulbright scholarships vs Direct Admissions Scholarships, i.e., scholarships offered by the USA universities directly.

As an experienced mentor, I have interacted with thousands of students and most of the students are confused about whether to choose direct admissions or a Fulbright scholarship.

I will try to outline the pros and cons of both options, and by the end of it, you will be able to make an informed decision. As a prospective student, you should have a clear vision of your goals and a decent understanding of your desired career. 

It is important to note that this article will act as a guide in making an informed decision and is not meant to dictate your final decision.

Fulbright Scholarships:

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international academic exchange program sponsored by the US government and awards students, teachers, and professionals from over 150 countries fully-funded opportunities to study in America. There are country-specific programs such as the Fulbright Scholarship Pakistan and the Fulbright Scholarship India


  • It is one of the most prestigious and renowned scholarships in the world. 
  • The scholarship provides awardees to pursue their Master’s or Ph.D. and is fully funded. 
  • This means there is no hassle of paying for the university application fees, visa fees, travel, and living expenses. 
  • Students can also avail themselves of the opportunity to have their GRE and TOEFL paid for by Fulbright under certain conditions. 
  • Applicants do not need to find universities and apply. Once selected, the Fulbright program does all that for you. 
  • It is a great way to take what you learn in America and return to benefit communities in your home country. 
  • Students with not particularly strong academic profiles or GRE scores can be eligible for some of the top universities in America, which would not be possible through direct admissions.


  • Due to the Fulbright J1 Visa condition, you are legally NOT allowed to work in the USA after you have completed your studies. Additionally, as per the Fulbright contract that you will be asked to sign, you must stay in your home country for two years post-graduation. Therefore, if you want to settle and work in the US immediately after studying, this may not be the best option for you.
  • The choice of university is not in your hands. During the application process, you will be asked for university preferences, but ultimately, the selection of a university is up to Fulbright. The program applies to multiple universities on your behalf, and even if you are admitted to a top-tier university, there are chances you may not get to go. Ultimately, the decision lies entirely with the program. 
  • The process is long and tedious. Once selected, there is a lot of documentation work that must be done, such as medical and degree attestation. All of this requires a lot of footwork as it will all be required urgently. 
  • The whole process is highly competitive as seats for each country are highly limited. For the Fulbright Scholarship 2023-24, 150 students were selected in Pakistan. This averages out to about 20 percent of the total number of students who applied. 

Direct Admissions:


  • One of the biggest benefits is that you can legally work in the US after you’ve completed your studies.
  • Ph.D. programs in America are fully funded. Additionally, Ph.D. candidates are known to receive a higher stipend than those coming to the US on a Fulbright scholarship.
  • In some cases, programs for Masters are also funded if you prove to have an academically strong profile.
  • MBA programs offer fully funded scholarships as well, to those who have strong GRE or GMAT scores.
  • After completing your education, the starting compensation for fresh graduates can range from $60,000 to up to $175,000, though it varies from program to program.


  • Applying to US universities on your own is quite tedious. It requires you to do a lot of research in order to find a program right for you. Therefore, you have to be really passionate and self-motivated when applying to these USA programs. Without it, you will not be successful. 
  • A lot of university research and shortlisting is required. You need to make sure you shortlist universities smartly, looking specifically at those institutes that offer fully-funded scholarships such as Research Assistantships, Teaching Assistantships, and Graduate Assistantships to international students. Sometimes, universities provide a number of scholarships, such as merit and need-based. Make sure you research all the ones you are qualified for and approach professors to offer them to you.
  • You will need to allocate at least an additional budget of $420 for the application fees of 4 universities. (GRE and TOEFL costs are the same for Fulbright and direct admissions, which is around $387). Check the Cost of USA Application Process for details.
  • This is a self-motivated process. You will need to go through all universities’ application processes yourself, find relevant professors, apply directly, and look for funding.


These are both viable options when looking for scholarships in the US. Both are absolutely worth the hard work, and I would recommend that you apply through both routes before making a final decision. 

Everyone has different needs and circumstances. If you want to work in the US after your education and foresee a career in the US, you should go through the direct admit route if you cannot afford the time and effort along with all the fees attached to direct admission or you want to come back and serve your country you should choose Fulbright scholarship instead.

If you are applying for a Ph.D. program, I strongly suggest going through direct admissions, as there are more scholarships available than at a Master’s level. So, even if you don’t want to return to your home country, you have the option at the end of your program. 

Important to note that GRE and TOEFL are required for both processes. 

Good luck!

Read on: Fulbright Scholarship Complete Step-Wise Guide


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